Albrecht Muth, 49, convicted of murder in death of socialite wife Viola Drath, 91

Homicide detectives Gus Giannakoulias and James Wilson question Albrecht Gero Muth on Aug. 13, 2011, a day after Viola Herms Drath was found dead inside her home. Muth was later found guilty of first-degree murder. (Video courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office)

Albrecht Gero Muth, an eccentric German native who pretended to be an Iraqi general, was convicted Thursday in D.C. Superior Court of first-degree murder in the death of his 91-year-old wife in their Georgetown rowhouse.

The jury of nine men and three women deliberated only about three hours before finding Muth, 49, guilty of beating and strangling socialite and journalist Viola Herms Drath in August 2011. Because of Drath’s age, the jury declared the crime “heinous and atrocious,” which means that Muth could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Russell F. Canan on March 19.

When the verdict was announced, Drath’s relatives hugged one another in the front row of the courtroom. Her younger daughter, Francesca, broke into tears.

Afterward, family members hugged the prosecutors, homicide detectives and several jurors on their way out of the courthouse. It was unclear how Muth reacted to the verdict; periodic fasting left him too weak to attend the trial, and he participated by video from a hospital bed.

“This was a very devastating case,” said Drath’s older daughter, Connie Drath Dwyer. “But justice has been served.”

Viola Drath and Muth had a fascinating marriage of 20 years. They slept in the same bedroom but in separate beds. He was more of a companion than a conventional husband, and he often served as her social scheduler, prosecutors said. In interviews with detectives, Muth called the marriage one of “convenience.”

But prosecutors said Muth was also abusive and controlling. Drath was found dead in a second-floor bathroom with bruises on her head, throat, chest and arms.

During the six-day trial, prosecutors called dozens of witnesses, including Drath’s relatives, friends and visitors. The trial was the first ever in D.C. Superior Court in which the defendant was not present in the courtroom. Muth, once a strapping man of nearly 200 pounds, now weighs 92 pounds.

Prosecutors Glenn Kirschner and Laura Bach argued that Drath’s death was the culmination of years of domestic abuse.

Drath had several fractured ribs, bruises to her spine and scratches around her neck, prosecutors said. The scratches, they said, occurred when Drath tried to fight off Muth as he strangled her. She fought so hard, they said, that one of her thumbnails broke off.

“He beat and strangled her out of 20 years of rage,” Bach told the jury.

As Drath’s body lay on the bathroom floor, prosecutors said, Muth did Google searches on flights to Iceland and on Mexican and Canadian border crossings. It was evidence, they said, of Muth’s desire to flee.

Since Muth and Drath began dating, Drath’s relatives and friends were wary of her much younger suitor. He often wore an eye patch, and said he had lost the eye while fighting as a mercenary in South America, but he later stopped wearing the patch. He had a military uniform — which prosecutors say he ordered online — and wore it on the streets of Georgetown, telling neighbors he was an Iraqi general.

But Drath — a former fashion and political writer and a playwright — initially found Muth fascinating and attentive, her relatives said.

Muth originally told authorities that his wife died in a fall. He then said she was killed in an Iraqi assassination. At one point in the court process, Muth fired his attorneys from the D.C. Public Defender Service. But because of Muth’s periodic fasting, which he said was ordered by the Archangel Gabriel, Canan ruled that he could not continue to defend himself.

For months, Muth’s attorneys argued their client wasn’t mentally competent to stand trial and should be committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital, the District’s psychiatric hospital. But after a series of psychological examinations, Canan ruled that the case would move forward.

Defense attorneys Dana Page and Craig Hickein argued in court that there was no proof that Muth killed his wife. Authorities had no DNA evidence and no eyewitnesses, they told jurors.

The defense also stressed that Muth did not benefit financially from his wife’s death. They said that Drath gave her husband a $2,000 monthly allowance and that he lived in her three-story rowhouse. But there was a prenuptial agreement and a will under which Muth would not inherit anything, defense attorneys said.

When Drath and Muth married in Virginia in 1990, none of Drath’s relatives were invited. Over the years, her relatives found family gatherings with Muth increasingly difficult, especially when he drank and became “belligerent,” according to testimony. Eventually, relatives stopped making frequent visits to the house and saw Drath only when Muth wasn’t around.

Dwyer said that although her mother was 91, she had more years of life in her.

“She was a fabulous and accomplished woman,” Dwyer said.

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Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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